War Cries of the Irish Septs and Anglo-Irish Barons

AuthorJohn Johnson Marshall
Date1924
SourcePopular Rhymes and Sayings of Ireland
Section Chapter XV

With a fighting race such as the Irish, when in bygone days every provincial king, and petty chieftain was a law unto himself and settled his real or imaginary wrongs, as well as enforced his rights literally by the Lamh Laidir (strong arm), the war cry was a necessity. Distinctive uniforms such as are worn by soldiers in modern warfare did not obtain with the Irish who all dressed alike in the saffron colored linen shirt. They were therefore compelled to use distinguishing words in the day of battle in order to recognise friends from foes. The gairm sluiagh (battle cry) was at the beginning of the conflict a charging shout, the slogan, insignium, or vocal banner on each side, besides which every clan had a visible ensign in the standard round which it rallied.

In all encounters the use of “Farrah, Farrah!” was common. Feara, or more probably “Faire” an admonition to those who were about to take care, like the French “Gare-a-vous. “Aboo” is another word universally used as the termination of battle cries, but has neither meaning as a word nor federal significance as a slogan.

The cry generally used was the name of the chief, or of a renowned ancestor, or the name of the gathering place or headquarters of the clan, and when the mode of fighting changed, these cries were laid aside, or transferred as mottoes to the crests of families using them.

One of the most famous in Irish annals is that of the O’Neills, Dynasts of Ulster—“Lamh-dearg-aboo!” the Red hand, which was the O’Neill cognizance borne on their banner. According to a list given in Camden of the O’Neill retinue that went to England with Shane-an-Diomais, MacCaffrey was his standard bearer. Clan Caffrey were a branch of the Maguires who took the district surname of MacCaffrey. This name is still numerous in County Fermanagh.

The neighbouring and rival clan of O’Donnell, of Tir-connell, had for their war-cry “O’Donnell-aboo!” and well might their bards adjure the fighting men of the clan as they followed the “Cathach,” or “Battle Book” of the O’Donnells into the fray:—

“Sons of Tir-Connaill, all valiant and true!

Make the false Saxon feel

Erin’s avenging steel—

Strike for your country—“O’Donnell abu’!”

Other war cries of Northern clans still on record are “Battail’lah-aboo”! used by the McSwynes, of Donegal. They were gallow-glasses, or battle-axe men, and their cry alluded to these heavy armed soldiers who formed the main body, or “battle” as it used to be termed of the army.

“Keartlevarry-aboo!” The ball of tow yarn, which they probably wore as a distinguishing badge, was the battle-cry of the McKennas, of Truagh, County Monaghan.

“Ardchully-aboo!” The slogan of the O’Hanlons, hereditary standard bearers of Ulster. Derived from Ard-choill, high wood, or ard-coille, the height of the wood, probably some well known hill that was the gathering place of the clan.

“Shanbodagh-aboo!” The old churl, was the battle cry of Magennis of Down.

No less famous in Irish Annals than Clan Niall, and Clan O’Donnell, were the Fitzgeralds, who, although of Norman blood became “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” The Geraldines were divided into two branches, of which the southern, or Desmond branch had as their slogan “Shanid-aboo,” from the massively constructed stronghold situated on the line of rounded hills running from north to south of County Limerick. From its commanding situation by means of a signal fire lighted on the castle turret, intelligence or alarm could be conveyed over the whole of North Munster. The Earl of Desmond forfeited his princely patrimony in the sixteenth century, but the war cry has been retained by the knights of Glin, who use it as their motto.

The Leinster branch of the Geraldines had for their battle cry “Crom aboo!” This was taken from Crom Castle in the County of Limerick, and is now the motto of the Duke of Leinster. The O’Donovans having been driven out of this territory by the Baron of Offaley, which was the first Geraldine title of honour in Ireland, he rebuilt the castle and made it his principal residence. When the head of the family became Earl of Kildare he resided principally in the Pale still however, retaining the old battle cry:—

“But not for rite or feast ye stayed, when friend or kin were pressed;

And foemen fled when ‘Crom Abu’ bespoke your lance in rest.”

When in the year 1534, the Lord Deputy, Garrett Oge Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, went into England in obedience to the king’s mandate, he left his son, the young Lord Thomas, as Deputy in his place. This was a most unfortunate arrangement, as Kildare had plenty of enemies behind him who now spread a report that he had been beheaded in England. This false report so incensed the young lord that entering the chamber where the Privy Council sat, he openly renounced his allegiance and proceeded to deliver up the sword and robes of state. His friend Archbishop Cromer, now Lord Chancellor, with tears in his eyes besought him to forego his rash purpose. While this was taking place his Irish followers had thronged into the chamber, and becoming impatient of what was going on in a language that they did not understand, Neal Roe O’Kennedy, the Geraldine bard was heard striking his harp, and chanting a lay in praise of “Thomas Na Teeda” (the silken lord), and calling upon him to avenge his father’s death:—

“ ’Tis Thomas of the vest of silk, the raven of the vale,

The falcon of Kildare’s tall towers, that scorns the mountain gale,

The raked up ember whose fierce flame shall prove the overthrow

Of every hungry Saxon dog—then “Farrah Crom-aboo.”

The bard’s exhortation decided the fiery youth, and casting the sword of state upon the council table he rushed forth with his men to engage upon that wild and hopeless struggle, which ended in the ruin of himself and his family.

The Talbots of Malahide, cousins of “Silken Thomas” had for their motto and cry “Prets d’accomplir.”

The Fitzgeralds’ great rivals and deadly enemies, the Butlers, Earls of Ormond, had for their battle cry “Butler-aboo!”

The slogan of the De Burghs, or Bourkes of Connaught was “Gallruagh-aboo!” The red foreigner, taken it is said from “Iarla-Ruadh,” Richard de Burgh, the red Earl of Ulster, who died in 1326. It is also sometimes given as “Gallriagh-aboo!” Riagh, a contraction of riabhachswarthy, but the first seems the correct form.

The O’Carrolls had “Slowac-aboo!” Slabhac (pro. slowac), a hawk. O’More’s was “Conlan-aboo!” Conlan is mentioned in the Inquisitions as the name of a place in Queen’s County. “Gear-laider-aboo!” Sharp and strong, was the cry of the Fitzpatricks, or McGilla Patricks, chieftains of Ossory.

“Faliagh-aboo!” was the slogan of O’Connor, while the Kavanaghs’ shout was “Kinshelagh-aboo!” which referred to the men of Hy Kinshelagh, a clan inhabiting the mountainous and level country of which Mount Leinster was the centre, and deriving their name from Ceinseallach, their patriarch. They also had a second cry—“Cloghechy-aboo!” ‘Eochy’s stone.’ The chieftains of Hy Kinshelagh were inaugurated at Leagh McKeogh, and this rock probably gave rise to their slogan.

“Geraldagh-aboo!” was the cry of Decies. Lord Decies was a Geraldagh, or Geraldine, as sprung from Gerald, eighth Earl of Desmond.

“Tynsheog-aboo!” Tynsheog the ash tree, used by the Delvin men. Delvin is the baronial title of Nugent, Marquis of Westmeath.

It is to be noticed that the war cries of the Barons of the Pale were in the Irish tongue, showing how, despite acts and ordinances, the English settlers were assimilated by the country. Thus the cry of County Louth settled by Norman chivalry on the borders of the Pale was “Shuyrym-aboo!” and the Shortalls “Puckan-sack-aboo!” Puckan signifies a sack or pouch, and the cry is perhaps an allusion to an armorial bearing. The Baron of Slane’s cry was “Barneregan-aboo!” Perhaps a bearna baoghail, or pass of danger, well known as leading into Lord Fleming of Slane’s country, and which this slogan called to defend.

“Poer-aboo!” was the charging shout of the followers of Viscount Baltinglas, whose surname was Fitz-Eustace, as descended from Eustace le Poer.

“Fernock-aboo!” was the shout of the O’Toole’s, from fir, or fear-a-cnoic the men of the hills. An apt description for the brave clan Tuathail who dwelt among the hills of northern Wicklow, it is recorded in “Grace’s Annals” under A.D. 1316—“The Irish of Imayle (the glen of Imail in County Wicklow), attacked Tullow, and lost four hundred men, whose heads were brought to Dublin; marvellous things occurred, the dead rose again and fought with one another, shouting their cry after their fashion “Fennok-aboo.” Pembridge, “Annals Hiberniae” has the same incident, and writes the word “Fennokabo.”

“Killole-aboo!” probably a coille, or wood, was used by the Doyles, or McDowells of Arklow, who, like a great many of the sea coast inhabitants were of Danish extraction.

“Farliagh-aboo!” was the battle cry of the O’Connors of Offaley, and was derived from their remote ancestor Failghe.

In the County Tipperary the Anglo-Irish family of the Purcells had for their slogan “Pobal-puirsealach,” anglice Pobble Purcell. This territory forms part of the territory of the barony of Eliogarty. The ruins of Purcell’s magnificent mansion are to be seen close to the village of Loughma.

“Roisteach-aboo!” The Roche’s house or residence.

“Barragh-aboo!” A man of the Barrys.

“Lamh-laidir-aboo!” The strong hand aboo. The cry of the O’Briens of Thomond. It was also used by Fitzmaurice, and must have caused extraordinary confusion whenever these two great southern clans met in conflict.

“Fustine-stelly-aboo!” was the battle cry of the clan O’Sullivan, and that of the knight of Kerry’s men “Farre-buoy-aboo!” The yellow men, alluding perhaps to their saffron dyed linen shirts.

Progress in the art of fighting, as in other forms of human activity has rendered the ancient war cries, whether of Crusader or Celtic chieftain, things of the past, subjects for the historian, and the antiquary, and we could not if we would:—

“Bring back to life again, those hero-hosts so gay,

Who fought with Coun the Hundred Fights—with Eo’gan urged the fray.”

At any rate like Allen Breck. they were ‘bonnie fighters,’ and brave men deserve to to be held in remembrance.

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Contents Popular Rhymes and Sayings of Ireland
CategorySocial History

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